Charles Sobhraj, a French serial killer who police say is responsible for a series of murders in the 1970s and 1980s, has been released from prison in Nepal. His associates described him as a con artist, a seducer, a robber and a murderer.
Called the “Bikini Killer” in Thailand, and also “The Serpent” for his ability to evade police and use various disguises, Sobhraj, 78, is suspected of killing more than 20 Western backpackers on the “hippie trail” through Asia.
However, the true number of his victims is unknown. Here is a timeline of his life and alleged killing spree:
1944: Born in Vietnam
Sobhraj was born in Saigon on April 6, 1944, to a Vietnamese mother and Indian father. His mother later remarried a Frenchman.
In 1963, he embarked on a life as an international lawbreaker, which would take him to Greece, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In 1970, he moved to India, where he was arrested a year later for a jewellery heist. He fled while on bail and went to Greece, where he was arrested – but managed to escape.
1975: Thailand’s ‘Bikini Killer’
Sobhraj arrived in Bangkok in 1975 with his Canadian girlfriend and an Indian associate.
He would spend time with tourists, passing himself off as a trader in precious stones.
In October, the body of a young woman was found on a beach in Pattaya, wearing a bikini. Other victims followed, beaten, strangled or burned to death.
Sobhraj, who would become known as the “Bikini Killer”, allegedly used his victims’ passports for mysterious trips linked to trade in precious stones and drugs.
Under a cloud of suspicion, he fled to India.
1976: Arrested in India
In July 1976, he was arrested in India after trying to drug a group of more than 20 French tourists in a hotel in the national capital, New Delhi.
He was also accused of the murder of another French tourist, Luc Salomon, who had been poisoned in a hotel in Mumbai.
In May 1982, an Indian court handed him a life sentence for the 1976 murder of an Israeli tourist, Alan Jacob.
He was acquitted on appeal a year later for lack of evidence. But he remained in prison for his other crimes.
1980: Thailand demands extradition
In late 1985, India agreed to Thailand’s request to extradite Sobhraj for the murders of a Turkish tourist and an American woman, Teresa Knowlton.
He risked the death penalty there.
He escaped from jail in New Delhi in March 1986 by feeding the prison guards sweets laced with drugs and sleeping pills.
Police nabbed Sobhraj days later at a restaurant in the western Indian beach holiday state of Goa. A statue of Sobhraj, in his signature peaked cap, remains at the eatery to this day.
But delays in the Indian legal system meant that the prison-break case did not come to trial for several years, by which time the Thai authorities had lost interest in having him extradited.
Accused of at least 15 murders across 10 countries, by the time he left Indian jails in 1997, his alleged crimes had fallen under the statute of limitations in Thailand.
Upon release, he went to France and lived there quietly until 2003 before returning to Nepal.
2004: Caught again and served a life sentence
Nicknamed “The Serpent” for his skill in slipping and sliding out of the judicial dragnet, Sobhraj returned to Nepal to set up a shawl export company under a false identity.
He was quickly recognised and arrested in Kathmandu for the 1975 murders of two tourists, Canadian backpacker Laurent Armand Carriere and American Connie Joe Bronzich. He was held in a high-security prison in Nepal from 2003.
He received a life sentence in August 2004 and would serve 19 years of a 20-year sentence.
2008: Married while behind bars
Sobhraj married Nihita Biswas, a Nepali national and a woman 44 years his junior, in 2008, while still behind bars.
2022: Release from prison
On December 21, 2022, Nepal’s top court ordered the release of Sobhraj from prison on health grounds. He was freed on December 23, and was expected to return to France.